There are so many important things for us to teach our children. We must teach them to be strong and independent, we must teach them to be honest and to respect other people, and we must teach them to be confident. Almost above all though, I think we must also teach them how to cook.
I don’t think they have to be budding MasterChefs or aim for stardom in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but I do think a basic knowledge of cooking and where food comes from is one of the greatest gifts we can give them; at the very least they will be able to make well-informed decisions about food when they are older, and in my mind, lead healthy and knowledgeable lives.
I really think that children should start young, and I love how they ‘experiment’ their way around the kitchen. A knowledge of cooking brings about a knowledge of food, and letting them be tactile by feeling freshness between their fingers teaches them intuitively about nutrition; there is a natural progression from understanding natural ingredients to cooking healthy, down to earth, basic food.
Along the way I’m a firm believer in making my children see that fruit and vegetables are far from perfect; they need washing, they need blemishes cutting out, but even the most ugly and misshapen ones are natural and as nature intended.
I know they’ll make a mess in the kitchen, but at the end of the day does it really matter? A while ago now Hetty wrote down my basic sponge recipe, and she uses it regularly; in fact she’s become quite competent at making cakes and along the way she’s learnt about weights and measures. Home economics, as it used to be taught, is a collection of many different and varied skills…..
Food is always a hot topic of conversation in our house. Roddy is, in my opinion, the star of the show. He is one of those enviable cooks who can take stock of what is on hand, wander around the kitchen garden, pick what is ripe and ready for eating, add a handful of herbs and concoct the most perfect meal. In this day and age, many of us do not have hours and hours each day in the kitchen to prepare a long lavish meal (this is, after all, why fast convenience food has become such a hit), but I think that in the time it takes to drive to a takeaway and wait in line and collect a meal, something can also be simply prepared at home. There are many times when we are in a mad rush here; four evenings a week someone has a different sport which means one of us is the taxi driver, and on these evenings we often have something simple; eggs, roasted vegetables and there’s always a dish of oven-roasted garlic and tomatoes. It’s a staple side-dish for us and combines so many vital things in a wonderful simple package.
Add a trip to the local market and we are really getting down to business. Whenever the children are on holiday they come with us and I love letting them choose the freshest of vegetables; they always have a chat with the ‘cheese-man’ and he loves nothing more than cutting off tiny morsels of different varieties for them to try. The vegetable lady will hand them something fresh to snack on, and the olive lady will always offer them samples as well.
At the fish counter, there is no point in going with any form of preconceived idea as to what we’re going to cook, as what we actually bring home will depend on what’s been caught. If the weather has been favourable and the seas calm there will be a great deal more choice than if it has been stormy and the boats have not been able to go out. Our market fish-stand is full of choice from boats both large and small, and over the years Roddy has taught us to know what’s been at sea for a couple of weeks in a hold, and what’s been caught the evening before. It’s all part of the education, learning where our food comes from and learning what to buy; in my opinion our children cannot start young enough and they need to learn quickly. Many of their young school-friends have been brought up in a similar way (that seems to be the way in France) and they understand how matters work also.
I love to make bread, and although I am a huge fan of our village bakery, I also enjoy a simple home-made wholewheat loaf and it’s still the best bread for making traditional sandwiches. Recently I’ve also started making brioche; it’s an adventure to try something new, and unlike the shop bought varieties I don’t add sugar to the mixture. Instead I just sprinkle some on top, otherwise I find it too sweet.
With Izzi home from Univeristy on Spring-break at the moment, we have another chef in the kitchen; she started cooking just like the others when she was perhaps 8 or 9 and she’s now an extremely competent cook. Her natural love of food has meant that even away at University she cooks both for herself, and many of her friends, almost every day. One of the reasons she takes her food so seriously there is that when she first started on campus she caught every virus in circulation, and she very quickly decided the only way forward was to keep her body healthy from the inside and ward off all the bugs with super-food!
The smaller girls love to cook supper with Roddy; it’s sometimes a slow process, so it requires patience, but they’re learning the basics one by one.
At the end of the day I can honestly say if we were abducted by aliens and the children were left home alone they really would cook themselves something healthy and nutritious for supper; it might just be a fried-egg and some broccoli and carrots, but they would instinctively know what they need to eat and I cannot ask for anything more than that. So I encourage you to get your children cooking, get your grand-children cooking, even get inspired yourself in the kitchen, it is really rewarding both inwardly and outwardly.
Bon Appetit x